A high-profile Government-backed campaign to prevent Islamic extremism from gaining a grip in the mosques of Birmingham will be launched today.

The #525,000 project has the working title "Reclaiming Islam" and will include training programmes for imams and schemes to improve the leadership skills of Muslim women and young people.

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The intention is to establish a framework of minimum competence for all imams and to help reduce the risk of mosques being infiltrated by extremists, according to Birmingham City Council, which will run the project.

Council education officials are to work with Islamic schools and Madrassahs to develop a curriculum based on citizenship and community cohesion, while a series of media skills workshops will help young Muslim women to improve their communications skills.

Children attending Islamic schools will be offered opportunities to interact with other mainstream schools in an effort to promote a greater understanding of other faiths.

The programme is part of #6 million national scheme paid for through the Government's Pathfinder fund. Birmingham submitted a successful bid to take part following a series of arrests made in the city in January for offences under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Council equalities and human resources cabinet member Alan Rudge, who will chair the Birmingham project management board, said: "As a city of many diverse cultures and faiths, it is important that we make every effort to ensure that all citizens within Birmingham feel that they have a valuable role to play in society.

"The ambitious and exciting work that will arise out of this pathfinder programme will enable Birmingham to demonstrate its position as a leader on the issue of community cohesion and matters relating to the prevention violent extremism - which has to be tackled through positive action at every available opportunity."

Communities Minister Parmjit Dhanda, who will help launch the programme, said: "We are building bridges and equipping people with the knowledge and understanding they need to challenge and combat extremism. This is all about partnership, sharing common goals and finding solutions that meet real needs."

The project will support the development of a series of community-led study circles to help young people develop a better understanding of Islam.

This will help enable mainstream imams to re-connect with them as mentors, teachers and authoritative voices as well as countering arguments of violent extremists, according to the council.

There are plans to build up a "positive media resource", putting together a library of pictures to promote positive images of Birmingham Muslims.

A women's development project will develop a training and resource package exploring examples of inspirational Muslim women past and present.

 Two Muslim activists from Birmingham explain to Chief Reporter Neil Connor why they are opposed to the Government's new anti-terror initiative.

Azhar Qayum said the majority of Muslims support any measures which tackle extremism.

However, he warned the Government it would be playing a dangerous game if it failed to talk to all sections of the community.

Mr Qayum, a Birmingham-based activist for the Muslim Association of Britain, said any organisations left out in the cold from grass-roots schemes would be labelled extremist. He said this "cherry picking" will drive youngsters outside of "chosen" organisations into the arms of Imams who preach hate.

Mr Qayam said: "Anything that is working towards stamping out extremism is a good thing, as long as it involves all the groups working together.

"However, if the Government cherry picks what organisations it speaks to, then it will appear as if ministers are trying to impose their view of Islam on Muslims."

Mr Qayam said the new scheme has only involved people "without influence in the community".

He said the The Muslim Council of Britain and Muslim Association have both been ignored, along with Birmingham's Green Lane Mosque, which he claims will have a congregation of more than 2,000 people a night during Ramadan.

He said: "Well over 50 per cent of all the city's mosques have not been involved with this, which is unfortunate.

"If we really want to tackle extremism then we need to speak to all organisations, not just those who are friendly with the Government.

"By not speaking to some of the organisations, they are already being labelled as extremist.

"Surely the mosques that are more difficult to reach are the ones that should be targeted under these proposals, because that is where it is more likely that extremism will breed."

Dr Mohammed Naseem, chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque, said the Government would need to concentrate on gaining the trust of Muslims.

He said the Reclaiming Islam scheme was "based on a premise" that Muslim extremists had carried out the 7/7 bombings.

He said: "I am questioning the Government's view on 7/7. I have an open mind.

"But the best thing this Government can do for community relations is to have an independent inquiry into 7/7, rather than spending money on programmes such as these."

Mr Naseem said he had "never come across as Imam who is expressing extremist views" and criticised attempts by the Government to single out the Muslim faith with measures to include women in decision-making.

He said: "Women have a voice in the Muslim community in different ways. I know of many households where the women have too much power, and the men do not know what is happening.

"But I think everyone should question what is going on in their communities - not just women. And that is true whether you are a Muslim or any other religion.

"More than 60 per cent of the population did not vote at the last election, they need to question who is leading them."

He called on the Government to develop the trust of Muslims through the police, claiming that "people have been arrested on the basis of suspicion, not on the basis of facts."